We all ought to at least be mildly pleased after two weeks with Aroldis Chapman as closer. Chapman has certainly provided results that no one can quibble with. From Chapman’s first save on May 20 to save number five on June 2, Chapman has allowed zero hits, and only walked two, while striking out 12 in 6 2/3 innings. If you own Chapman on your fantasy team, you are one smart lucky bastard. (No, seriously, I kind of hate you.) Between last year and this year, Chapman now has 28 straight appearances without allowing an earned run, which puts him just 10 appearances short of the record – 38.
Moreover, Chapman has attained a mythical reputation both here and abroad. Tonight’s ESPN broadcast crew (Terry Francona, Orel Hersheiser, and.. .someone) were palpably excited about the possibility of seeing Aroldis in next Sunday’s Reds vs. Tigers game, which will also be on ESPN, noting that Aroldis alone is worth the price of admission.
And, weirdly, it is having a crazy magic effect on the Reds. I was admittedly skeptical about this Twitclamation (that’s short for “twitter proclamation) (I came up with that myself, pretty great, huh?) from ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume:
Aroldis Chapman is a weapon as the closer. For this season, he’s a difference maker for #Reds in that division. Changes NL Central picture.
— Steve Berthiaume (@SBerthiaumeESPN) May 23, 2012
I mean, c’mon. Aroldis is great, but Marshall wasn’t so bad that the entire division is going to turn on a position that accounts for <1% of all innings pitched in the season. I’m a skeptic when it comes to the Church of the Closer, especially when it comes to traditional usage – and Dusty’s a very traditional closer kinda man. I think Chapman got into a lot more important situations as our bullpen ace type, and I worry, and still worry about Chapman being used in low-leverage save situations, and not in high leverage non-save situations.
Strangely, it may be the new bullpen situation has actually given Dusty a little more confidence to use less ‘traditional’ closer rules. Aroldis has already come in during a tie in one game, and in another game, pitched a full 1 2/3 innings. He’s still mostly come in for save situations in the 9th, but this strikes me as a good sign. Afterall, given a young guy with no closing experience, Dusty could’ve decided to go the opposite direction and rigidly follow the traditional rules of closer usage.
And here are our results: Before May 20, the Reds were 20-19, struggling just to keep our collective heads above the .500 water, and a game and a half behind in the standings. Now we’re 30-23, and up 3.5 games on the Cardinals in the central. Of course, this is a regression issue, and a small sample size issue, and a correlation is not equal to causation issue, but I’m ready to drink the Kuban Kool-Aid.
I’ve been looking for a reason to get excited about this team. Hey, who knows, maybe that’s what the Reds needed too. People are weird, and groups of people doubly so. If the Reds have been infected with Aroldis Chapman’s particular brand of closer-magic, I’m pleased. Like most intangible effects, I’m not confident in the effect being sustained at all, but hopefully, by the time it wears off, we’ll have an unstoppable team to believe in.